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Rockwood drops EMS, citing lack of interest, members

By Maria Miller

ROCKWOOD, Pa. -- After more than five decades serving the community, a local fire department is making a major change this new year and dropping its ambulance service.

The Rockwood Volunteer Fire Department said a lack of interest and declining membership over the past several years has made it harder and harder to keep the service up and running.

It's a decision the department has been tossing around for several years now and one active members didn't want to have to make, but they said serving the community is nearly impossible when new members lose interest and others get worn out.

"This past year we only ran about half of the calls we got dispatched for and we're supposed to do 24/7, 365 coverage and we can't do it anymore," said Michael Felesky, president of the Rockwood Volunteer Fire Department.

Felesky said as with most volunteer fire departments, membership in Rockwood has dropped, leaving them with less manpower to serve the community. In recent years he said they've seen such a decline that out of a department technically made up of about 50 members, there are only 15-20 who are truly active.

"Nobody has the dedication anymore," said Felesky. "You get members and they're here for a little bit and then something else comes up and you just don't see them anymore."

Others, he said, don't want to take the countless hours of training needed to become certified, while longtime members are getting worn out.

"We only had four or five EMTs and they've all been EMTs running ambulance calls for 10 to 15 years," said Felesky. "It's just getting old for them."

And it's not just the declining membership that's hurt. Felesky said it was a struggle getting reimbursed for each call, giving the department less money to do a job that's already done by volunteers.

"We billed for our ambulance service but you had to fill out a trip sheet specifically and they were always looking for reasons to reject it," said Felesky. "It just made it so hard and nit-picky to do it."

With paramedics responding to their last call Dec. 31, 2013,  Rockwood will now rely on neighboring Marclay's Community Ambulance which currently has a hub in New Centerville, a few miles down the road.

"It was a tough decision and we fought with it and fought with it," said Felesky. "It's just the way it ended up."

If for some reason the department got a spike in members, people who were truly interested in training and getting certified to become paramedics, Felesky said the department could entertain the idea of reinstating the ambulance service, but he said it's not something he sees likely.

He said anyone who has interest in joining the Fire Department is always welcome and encouraged to stop by.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times